Pesticides in Food: What You Should Know and Why it Matters

(Ocean Robbins) Pesticides are so widely used in our food system that it’s easy to assume that they must be safe. Unfortunately, that’s not always true. So what’s the truth about pesticides in food? Are any safe for you? Which ones are most dangerous to you and the environment? And what can you do to reduce your exposure?

The post Pesticides in Food: What You Should Know and Why it Matters appeared on Stillness in the Storm.

Toxic Weedkiller Dicamba Drift Damages Crops Across America

Roughly 383,000 acres of soybean crops have been injured by the weed-killer dicamba as of June 2018, according to University of Missouri plant sciences professor, Kevin Bradley.

Dicamba destroys everything it touches, other than the crops that are genetically engineered to withstand it. “Dicamba drift” is a well-known term associated with the herbicide because the chemical can be picked up by the wind and land on neighboring non-targeted fields, stunting plants’ growth, and leaving them wrinkled or cupped.

Non-targeted crops and trees have been harmed by dicamba drift for numerous growing seasons, according to Bradley, who has tracked the damage caused by the weed-killer extensively.

In 2017, Monsanto’s (now Bayer) new dicamba-based herbicide, XtendiMax, was approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use on the company’s Xtend soybeans and cotton. That growing season, XtendiMax reportedly damaged an estimated 3.6 million acres of off-target crops in more than 2 dozen states.

Many crops were also devastated in 2016 when 10 states reported hundreds of thousands of crop acres damaged by the apparent misuse of older, unapproved versions of dicamba.

The summer of 2018 has fared a bit better, but the damage was still palpable, according to Bradley.

“Many growers in [Missouri] have adopted the Xtend trait so they don’t experience dicamba injury on their soybean crop for a third season in a row. Since the adoption of the Xtend trait is so high in this area, relatively speaking there seem to be fewer soybean fields with injury this year compared to last.

However, just as in the past two seasons, there are still fields of non-Xtend soybean in this area showing injury from one end to the other.

More surprising to me than that has been the extent of the trees that are showing symptoms of growth regulator herbicide injury in that part of the state where the adoption of this trait is so high.”

Compared to 2017, 2018 has seen more cases of off-target movement of the chemical to specialty crops, vegetables, ornamental plants, and trees, said Bradley. [2]

Read: Complaints About Crop Damage Spur Temporary Ban on Dicamba in 2 States

He writes in the report:

“I have personally witnessed this increasing problem of off-target dicamba injury to “other” crops and tree species in the calls I have received, field visits, and “windshield surveys” of Missouri that I have taken the past few weeks, especially when driving around southeast Missouri last week.”

Here are the soybean injury numbers in 2018 (could actually be much more), by acres, in individual states, according to the University of Missouri: [1]

  • Arkansas 100,000
  • Illinois: 150,000
  • Indiana: 5,000
  • Iowa: 1,200
  • Kansas: 100
  • Kentucky: 500
  • Nebraska: 40
  • Missouri: 25,000
  • Mississippi: 100,000
  • Tennessee: 2,000


[1] EcoWatch

[2] AgProfessional


Are Farmers Being Manipulated Into Buying GMO Soybean Seeds?

In the past 3 years, Monsanto’s (now Bayer) genetically modified soybean seeds have dominated 60% to 70% of the market. The Xtend soybeans bring in about $1 billion a year for Bayer, which acquired Monsanto in June 2018. But sales of the seeds are being driven by fear, and that fear has birthed an anti-trust lawsuit against the agrochemical giant.

Xtend soybeans have been genetically altered to withstand an herbicide called dicamba. The weed-killer has been around for decades, but it poses a problem for farmers because it typically kills non-gmo soybeans. Farmers who plant Xtend seeds, however, can spray dicamba all over their crops without worrying that their soybeans will be killed in the process.

Dennis Wentworth, a farmer in central Illinois, said:

“One hundred percent of the soybeans that we plant are Xtend soybeans. It controls the weeds. Kills the weeds. That’s the bottom line. It doesn’t affect the crop.”

Many farmers say dicamba has become their go-to herbicide because it kills weeds that other herbicides can’t. They also claim the new seeds produce a bigger yield.

Read: Monsanto is Being Sued by Missouri’s Largest Peach Grower

However, many of these same farmers claim they started planting Xtend soybeans because they had no other option. Take Randy Brazel, for example. Brazel grows soybeans in southeastern Missouri and western Tennessee. In early December 2018, the farmer had already ordered non-GMO soybean seeds, but a phone call from a neighbor made him realize it was Xtend soybeans or nothing.

Brazel said:

“I have a neighbor, a friend. He calls me and says, ‘I am going to have to go dicamba.’”

Dicamba is known to drift far and wide, including to other farmers’ fields, where it can harm non-targeted plants. Brazel knew that if his neighbor decided to spray dicamba, his own crops were at risk.

Last year, as of July 15, 2018, about 1.1 million acres of soybeans had been destroyed by dicamba.

Dicamba drift, as it’s called, has been such a problem that in 2017, officials in Arkansas and Missouri enacted a 120-day ban on the use of the herbicide. A few months later, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) entered into an agreement with Monsanto and other makers of dicamba products dictating that dicamba would be classified as “restricted use” for the 2018 growing season.

Under the agreement, dicamba could only be sprayed by certified applicators with specific training; spraying would only be permitted when winds were less than 16 kilometers, or just under 10 mph, and spraying would be restricted to certain times of the day. Furthermore, farmers were required to keep detailed records of dicamba use.

Brazel knew the risks and wasn’t willing to lose his soybean crop, so he canceled the non-GMO seeds he had ordered and instead ordered Xtend soybeans.

He said:

“Then I have to get on the phone and call every other neighbor and say, ‘Listen, I did not want to do this. But I am going to be forced to go dicamba.’ Well, then that forces all those neighbors to call their neighbors. And eventually what you have is a monopoly.”

Read: Major Seed Companies Call for Limits on Dicamba

That’s exactly what Bayer and other dicamba manufacturers are banking on, said Rob Robinson, CEO of Rob-See-Co. He has lost a lot of customers who decided to “go dicamba” out of fear that if they didn’t, their soybean crop would be damaged.

Robinson said:

“At least on a local basis, they’re being sold with this idea. It’s actively part of the sales process.”

Seed companies remind farmers that if they plant Xtend seeds, they won’t see any dicamba damage, and they won’t have any uncomfortable discussions with their neighbors, according to Robinson.

He went on:

“Now, how far that goes up the management chain with Monsanto, now Bayer, I can’t tell you, but I know that locally, that’s the message.”

The anti-trust lawsuit, filed by several law firms on behalf of farmers, alleges that Bayer violated anti-trust law by selling dicamba-resistant seeds. The lawsuit claims that the company knew that the risk of dicamba drift could drive competitors out of the market.

Read: Monsanto Offering Cash to Farmers who Use Dicamba Herbicide

Bayer maintains that dicamba is safe when used properly and points out that dicamba drift damage was less severe in 2018. It further claims that farmers are buying Xtend seeds because they offer better weed control and higher yields.

Bayer’s critics say the only reason there was less damage from drifting dicamba last year is because so many farmers have been strong-armed into buying Xtend soybeans.

Whatever the reasons, Bayer is making bank on the fears of American farmers.



Toxic Pesticides Have Been Showing up in People’s Urine

A study published in the journal JAMA showed once again that levels of glyphosate, the main ingredient in the popular herbicide Roundup, in human urine have increased dramatically among Californians in the past 20 years. [1]

For the study, urine samples were collected from 100 Southern California residents over the age of 50 from 1993-1996, to 2014-2016.

Paul Mills, professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California San Diego, and a team of researchers found that the percentage of people who tested positive for glyphosate skyrocketed 500% during that period. The levels of glyphosate also spiked 1,208% during those years.

During the early phase of the study, Mills said “there were very low levels – and they were only detectable in 12 out of 100 people.” [2]

He explained:

“Then over the next 22 years, we found about a 1,000% increase in the levels found in the 100 people, on average.”

Prenatal glyphosate exposure has been linked to shorter gestation times and lower birth weights in babies. Some research suggests, too, that the chemical may be generating deadly antibiotic-resistance.

But glyphosate most often makes headlines for its potential link to cancer. Multiple studies have found that the Roundup ingredient could be carcinogenic. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) wing of the World Health Organization (WHO) classified glyphosate a probable human carcinogen in 2015.

The group said in 2016, however, that “glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet.”

Yet Mills believes the levels in human urine increased primarily from people eating foods sprayed with the chemical.

He said:

“It’s unlikely that all these folks are spraying that much Roundup in their yards every day, to get the levels we observed. Our research is showing that a lot of us across the US likely have fairly significant levels of these compounds, unless we take up an organic diet”

To follow up on his findings, Mills plans to measure factors that track liver disease, to ascertain whether the levels of glyphosate detected in the study are associated with a greater risk of liver problems in humans.

A study from the UK, in which rats were fed low levels of glyphosate throughout their lives, found that the chemical increased the risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in the rodents. According to Mills, the levels of glyphosate found in the people in his study were 100-fold greater than those in the rats, though they were still very low. [1]

Specifically, Mills wants to find out how much people are exposed to glyphosate through breathing in particles that have been sprayed into the air, especially in agricultural areas.

Read: Most of the Glyphosate Sprayed in CA Is Applied in Poor Areas

Glyphosate use is on the rise in the US., and it is the most widely used herbicide chemical in the world. Roundup was developed to eliminate weeds from corn, soy, and other genetically modified crops, however, many weeds have grown resistant to the herbicide. This means that farmers must spray even more of it, potentially increasing the health ramifications of being exposed to the weed-killer.

Mills says:

“From my perspective it’s remarkable that we have been ingesting a lot of this chemical of the last couple of decades. But the biomedical literature hasn’t said much about its effects on people. That’s a gap that we endeavored to address and bring more awareness to with this study.”


[1] Time

[2] HealthDay

Study Finds Prenatal, Infant Exposure to Pesticides Increases Autism Risk

There are several theories about what causes autism; one of those revolves around exposure to pesticides. A recent study adds weight to that particular theory, as researchers discovered that children whose mothers were exposed to the most commonly used pesticides were more likely to develop autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Ondine von Ehrenstein, associate professor in the Fielding School of Public Health at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a team of colleagues analyzed autism registry data in California along with pesticide spraying in the state for the study.

Findings from the Research

The study included nearly 38,000 people, including 2,961 cases of autism.

Read: Autism Diagnoses Increased by Banned Pesticides, Even 10 Years After Exposure

Women who were pregnant and who lived within a 2,000-meter radius of an area where pesticides were heavily applied were found to be between 10-16% more likely to have a child diagnosed with ASD, compared to women who lived in areas farther away from sprayed areas.

The team looked at 11 different pesticides, including glyphosate, chlorpyrifos, diazinon, permethrin, and others (often used to control ticks). They discovered that children who were exposed in-utero were 30% more likely to be dually diagnosed with autism and intellectual disabilities. Exposure in the first year of life increased the risk of autism by as much as 50%, compared to those not exposed to certain pesticides.

The Pesticides Studied Have Caused Damage in the Past

The 11 pesticides chosen for the study were selected because past research has linked them to potentially harmful effects on development and brain development, including on animals still in the womb, Von Ehrenstein said. Human studies have also linked the pesticides to harm, but much of that research relied on smaller groups than the cohort in the current study.

Read: Scientists Find Chemical Toxins in Utero Unmistakably Linked to Autism

Von Ehrenstein said the study shows that babies are particularly vulnerable to pesticide exposure at 2 key points in their development: while in utero and after birth. The researchers controlled for the effect of prenatal exposure after birth when they calculated the risk for exposure while the mothers were pregnant.

The findings suggest that children who are exposed to pesticides during the first year of life may have a greater risk of developing both autism and intellectual disabilities.

Von Ehrenstein said:

“Both prenatal and postnatal periods are vulnerable periods. And it doesn’t stop at birth.”

It’s possible that other environmental factors besides pesticide spraying played a role in the development of autism in those diagnosed with the disorder. However, the researchers adjusted for other factors, including air pollution, whether the mothers lived in rural or urban areas, and their socioeconomic status. The link remained robust after all of these factors were accounted for.

Amanda Bakian, co-author of an editorial that accompanied the study and an assistant professor in the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Utah, said: [2]

“Pesticide exposure alone is not the whole story. Other factors are clearly at play that makes some children more vulnerable to this exposure than others. And at this point, we don’t know what those are.”

When Possible, Go Organic

Von Ehrenstein notes that, unlike smoking or drinking alcohol, most people have no control over when and where pesticides are applied, and pregnant women may not realize they are being exposed. What’s more, people may be further exposed to pesticides by eating fruit and vegetables that have been treated by the chemicals. In that case, it’s possible to lower one’s exposure by choosing organic over traditionally-grown produce. [1]

In the end, Von Ehrenstein and her team hope their findings will lead to greater public awareness and policy changes regarding pest control that benefit human health.

“I would hope that these findings would make some policymakers think about effective public health policy measures to protect populations who may be vulnerable and living in areas that could put them at higher risk. Raising awareness in the public may be the way to eventually change practices and agricultural policies.”

The Autism Society of America also hopes the study will lead to more research. Executive director and CEO Scott Badesch commented:

“These types of studies are so important to help us understand the underlying mechanisms that may lead to autism spectrum disorders. We also urge further research like this that might lead to specific public health actions and interventions for individuals and families.”


[1] Time

[2] HealthDay

Judge Cancels Roundup Trials, Brings in ‘Neutral Third Party’ for Resolution

Thousands of cancer patients are suing Monsanto alleging their exposure to the company’s Roundup herbicide caused their illnesses. This is all taking spotlight in court, where recently U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria officially ordered Bayer AG and lawyers (who represent the mass of cancer patients) into mediation to seek a settlement.

Bayer, which acquired Monsanto in June 2018, lost the first of 2 trials in unanimous jury verdicts that led to large damage awards against the company.

In his order, Chhabria wrote:

“The parties should propose a mediator in their case management statement; if they cannot agree, the Court will appoint someone.”

Bayer said it would comply with the order but still planned to defend the safety of Roundup and other glyphosate-containing herbicides in court.

A third trial had been slated to begin May 20. [2]

Chhabria said he would rather see the cases organized in the multidistrict litigation before him, which would determine which lawsuits should be dismissed, which should be sent to state courts, and which cases should be sent back to where they were originally filed for trials in federal court.

Analysts predict the settlement could top $5 billion. The confidential nature of mediation would mean that Bayer manages to resolve the litigation without multimillion-dollar damning headlines the first 2 trials produced.

Thomas G. Rohback, a New York trial attorney, said:

“The confidentiality – which is also quite common – could help Bayer pay a settlement amount without making that public. Of course, the key is whether the parties can reach an agreement.”

Chhabria scheduled a meeting for May 22 to discuss the mediation efforts and possibly set a new date for the canceled trial.


[1] U.S. Right to Know

[2] The Detroit News

Woot! Los Angeles County Bans Use of Roundup Weedkiller

Roundup, the popular weed-killer linked to non-Hodgkin lymphoma, will not be sprayed in Los Angeles County for now after its Board of Supervisors issued a moratorium on the application of the herbicide, citing a need for more research into its potential health and environmental effects. [1]

The board asked the Department of Public Works to team up with other health officials to survey the use of glyphosate, the main active ingredient in Roundup.

In August 2018, a San Francisco jury ordered Bayer to pay a school groundskeeper $289 million in the world’s first Roundup trial. That amount was later reduced to $78.5 million. The groundskeeper had alleged in his lawsuit that exposure to glyphosate caused his terminal cancer. Then, on March 19, another San Francisco jury concluded that Roundup caused another man’s cancer. The moratorium in Los Angeles County was issued the same day.

In 2017, glyphosate was added to California’s list of carcinogenic substances under the state’s Proposition 65 law.

LA County Supervisor Kathryn Barger recommended the ban, saying:

“I am asking county departments to stop the use of this herbicide until public health and environmental professionals can determine if it’s safe for further use in LA County and explore alternative methods for vegetation management.”

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl co-authored the motion, which cites “a growing body of scientific study” of herbicide safety and its potential health effects. [2]

Kuehl said:

“In a 2015 study led by 17 experts from 11 countries, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that glyphosate should be classified as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans.’ That conclusion makes it imperative that we question any long-term use of this controversial herbicide, and that’s exactly what this motion calls for.”

Monsanto has strongly contested the IARC’s conclusion.

In a statement, Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook applauded the moratorium. [1]

“Kicking Bayer-Monsanto and its cancer-causing weedkiller off LA County property was absolutely the right call. We know glyphosate causes cancer in people and shouldn’t be sprayed anywhere – period.”

A report is expected back in 30 days. [2]


[1] U.S. News & World Report

[2] NBC Los Angeles

Jury Finds Roundup Weedkiller Caused Man’s Cancer

Bayer was dealt a huge blow on March 19 when a San Francisco federal jury unanimously agreed that Roundup weed-killer caused a man’s cancer. [1]

It is the second time a jury decided in favor of a plaintiff who had alleged that the main ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, caused his non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

It took the jury 5 days of deliberation to reach the conclusion that Roundup was a “substantial factor” in causing non-Hodgkin lymphoma in Edwin Hardeman, 70, who hails from Sonoma County, California. The plaintiff was diagnosed with the disease in 2015. [1] [2]

In August, another San Francisco jury determined that Roundup caused cancer in DeWayne Johnson, a school groundskeeper who had been exposed to high levels of Roundup on the job. In that case, the jury awarded Johnson $289 million. However, that amount was later reduced to $78 million. [1]

Johnson’s condition has been described as “terminal,” however, Hardeman’s cancer is in remission. He testified that he sprayed Roundup for nearly 3 decades to kill poison oak on his 56-acre tract in Forestville, often getting the weedkiller on his hands or inhaling it. [2]

Lawyers for Hardeman and other plaintiffs accuse Monsanto of hiding evidence of the carcinogenic nature of glyphosate from its users and of “ghost-writing” some of the purported favorable study results.

Read: Judge OK’s Controversial Evidence in Roundup-Herbicide Trials

Hardeman’s lawyers, Aimee Wagstaff and Jennifer Moore, said in a statement after the verdict:

“Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup.

Instead, it is clear from Monsanto’s actions that it does not particularly care whether its product is, in fact, giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue.”

Monsanto, the maker of Roundup at the time both Hardeman and Johnson were exposed, was acquired by Bayer in June 2018. [1]

Hardeman’s case is 1 of 3 “bellwether” trials scheduled before U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria. The case could set a precedent that helps lay out the framework for the sizes of settlements in future cases. [2]

Bayer said in a statement March 19 that it is disappointed with the verdict, “but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer.”

The statement goes on to say:

“We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto’s conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman’s cancer.”

The jury’s next step will be to decide how much Hardeman should be awarded in liability and damages.

About 10,000 Roundup lawsuits are awaiting trial, including more than 750 that have been consolidated in San Francisco’s federal court. [1][2]


[1] NPR

[2] San Francisco Chronicle